In Minnesota, Catholics on Both Sides of Marriage Debate Gear Up

Catholic involvement in the struggle for marriage equality in Minnesota received a lot of press this week.  That state is facing a November ballot initiative to amend their constitution to prevent lesbian and gay couples from marrying.

The St. Cloud Times reports:

“The Diocese of St. Cloud has donated $50,000 to a fund supporting passage of Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“The donation is among Central Minnesota’s largest contributions to the costly battle over whether the state constitution will be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Voters will decide in November whether to adopt that amendment. . . .

“According to campaign finance reports, the St. Cloud diocese’s donation was made this month to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund. The Marriage Defense Fund has given $750,000 to Minnesota for Marriage since the start of 2011.

“Catholic diocese in Crookston and Winona also gave to the Marriage Defense Fund this year, and diocese in the Twin Cities, New Ulm and Duluth gave in 2011.

“The Diocese of St. Cloud’s donation came from parishioners’ contributions to special collections taken at Masses throughout the diocese, according to Christine Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the diocese. Those funds are separate from the general collections at each Mass, Codden said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that Catholics who support and Catholics who oppose the amendment are working hard for their cause:

“Catholics — numbering around 1.1 million — make up the largest single religious denomination in Minnesota, and they are gearing up for November when voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

“The Catholic church in Minnesota has been one of the most, if not the most, active religious groups in support of the constitutional amendment, which is in line with Catholic church teaching about marriage.

“At the same time, notable opposition to the law has come from inside the church, from groups of priests opposed to the amendment and from Catholics who have joined organizations opposed to the proposed statute. . . .

“In Minnesota, the Catholic church’s campaign in favor of the amendment includes the formation of parish marriage committees to educate parishioners on marriage and the consequences of a change in definition, according to the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the church in the state. . . .

“However, as was the case in other states, some Catholics have been vocal about their disagreement with the church’s campaign. . . .

“Also, three retired Catholic priests wrote a letter in May to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper (although it was not published) and held a press conference May 17 in Minneapolis, expressing their opposition to the Catholic church’s campaigning on the issue. Minnesota Public Radio took up the story and posted the letter online along with the story.

“Although the priests said they agree with the church’s position on sacramental marriage, they opposed a state constitutional amendment that would deny rights and privileges to same-sex unions. Asserting that ‘there is not just one way for Catholics to vote in November,’ they ask the letter reader to consider voting against the amendment.

” ‘We feel that our church is stronger when both sides of an issue are part of the public dialogue,’ the letter stated.”

Jim Smith

CNN’s Belief Blog spoke with Catholics in Minnesota who are working to oppose the amendment, including Jim Smith of DignityUSA, and Michelle LaFrance, a parishioner:

“Jim Smith is a former Roman Catholic priest who left his post with the church 10 years ago. He’s an ex-priest for several reasons, he says, but one of his main concerns was the church’s stance against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

“But Smith remains a Catholic – though he says being a Catholic who actively campaigns for legalized same-sex marriages can be difficult these days.

” “I’d much rather this wasn’t happening,’ Smith says of the division that the issue has created among Minnesota  Catholics. ‘But it does provide some real opportunities because it challenges us to talk to each other, Catholics talking to other Catholics.  .  .  .’

“A group he helped form,  Catholics for Marriage Equality-Minnesota, aims ‘to encourage Catholics to consider the profound sacredness of same-gender relationships and to defeat this marriage amendment,’ Smith says.

“Vatican edicts against same-sex marriage often give Catholic same-sex marriage supporters the impression they’re in the minority.

“But a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests 59% of American Catholics support rights allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. One reason behind that statistic – says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones – is because U.S. Catholics “overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed.” A PRRI poll bears that out – with 69% of Catholics nationwide saying a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

“In the Midwest alone, Catholics are evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage -– with 46% in favor, 47% against.

“Like Jim Smith, Michelle LaFrance is a Catholic who has also taken the bold step against the church in support of marriage equality.

” ‘I remember thinking “wow, maybe I shouldn’t [remain a Catholic],” ” LaFrance said. Ultimately they’ve remained with the Catholic faith, citing its many positive aspects including going to church. It’s an important weekly ritual for LaFrance, her husband and their three kids.

” ‘The Catholic Church, despite the media [attention] it typically gets, does a lot of great things, a lot of great social justice,’ LaFrance said. She noted the church ‘feeds the poor, houses the homeless, takes care of the abused.’ ”

“The LaFrance family belongs to the Church of St. Margaret Mary in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley, a congregation which LaFrance describes as fairly progressive. She says the majority of her fellow parishioners agree with her stance on same-sex marriage.

“But when LaFrance hears the archdiocese telling people how they should think about it, she can’t help but sometimes feel like less of a Catholic.

“‘ I don’t think anybody – whatever their religious denomination – whole-heartedly follows every single rule down to the letter.’  . . .

“For ex-priest Jim Smith, grappling with the issue has been difficult – a personal struggle that extends to the heart of his faith.

“The inner conflict between what Smith believes is right and his love for the church has pushed him to consider leaving the Catholic religion altogether.

“In the end, Smith vows he will stay. ‘It’s in my bones.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Bishops Launch Campaign to Bolster Idea that Religious Liberty Is at Stake

N.Y.’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan supporting the Fortnight for Freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have launched their “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week campaign that will include prayer vigils, rallies, and media activity designed to send a message that religious freedom is under attack in the United States.

Support for marriage equality among many voters, states, and the federal government is cited as one of the reasons the bishops designed this project.  According to an Associated Press article in The Washington Post:

“While the religious freedom campaign includes protests against state laws and policies, the bishops’ immediate target is the mandate President Barack Obama announced in January that most employers provide health insurance that covers birth control. Federal officials said the rule was critical to women’s health by helping them space out pregnancies.

“Critics have accused the bishops of organizing the campaign as a partisan assault on Obama in an election year. But church leaders insist they have no partisan agenda and blame the timing on when federal officials approved the rule.

“ ‘In only the past few years, we’ve experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country,’ wrote New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in an e-book released for the ‘Fortnight’ effort. Among the examples he cites are approval for embryonic stem cell research, legal justification for torturing prisoners and support for same-sex marriage.”

According to an article in USA Today:

“The target audience is as much within the church as outside it, says political scientist and Jesuit priest Thomas Reese. Although bishops can call on every priest in every diocese to participate in Fortnight events, ‘those priests who agree and who don’t like Obama will preach on it every Sunday. And the ones who don’t agree will throw (the bishops’ materials) in the circular file.’ ”

“Sister Pat McCann, blogging for the Sisters of Mercy, said, ‘Churches legitimately influence public debate and help to shape policy by raising a significant voice about moral implications of issues which beset us, but no church gets to establish policy one hundred per cent its own way.’ ”

“Reese said Catholics are ‘voting with their cars’ by driving off to a church where they’re not ‘harangue'” on issues that make them uncomfortable.”

“Most Catholics (57 percent), like most Americans (68 percent), don’t buy the bishops’ case that the right of religious liberty is under threat, said a March survey of 1,007 adults by the Public Religion Research Institute.”

According to a Religion News Service article in The Houston Chronicle, the complex funding mechanism the U.S. bishops have used to pay for the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign.  Cited in the article, criticizing the bishops is Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington:

“ ‘The Knights of Columbus are clearly one of the major sources of funding (against the mandate), as well as other fraternal organizations,’ Schneck said.

“The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group based in New Haven, Conn., says it’s the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. Knights of Columbus life insurance sales neared $8 billion in 2010, and last year, it contributed $158 million to charity. In the last decade, the Knights have donated more than $1 billion to charity.

“The group’s 2010 tax forms show that the Knights gave more than $3 million to the Vatican that year, nearly $2 million to the U.S. bishops conference and $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has guided much of the legal action against the contraception mandate.

“The group must disclose more recent donations in its 2011 tax forms. But Andrew Walther, a Knights of Columbus spokesman, said the group has asked for an extension in filing the documents, making them unavailable until the fall.

“In 2010, the Knights were also generous with their contributions to individual bishops, doling out nearly $350,000 for a variety of programs in various dioceses. Of that, $248,700, or 71 percent, went to Lori’s former Diocese of Bridgeport.

“Lori — who is the man most directly in charge of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign — has been the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus since 2005.

“The Knights did not respond to requests for an interview about the organization’s involvement with the bishops’ campaign, but the organization has dedicated recent issues of its monthly magazine to the topic of religious liberty.

“John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in Washington, said while the Knights’ charitable works was ‘commendable … its leadership has steered a fraternal organization into political waters in ways that should raise questions.’

“Asked by reporters in Atlanta last week if the Knights’ involvement in the religious liberty campaign introduces at least the perception of partisanship, Lori said no. Other groups have contributed to the campaign, he said, mentioning Our Sunday Visitor and the Order of Malta.

“ ‘Think of what the Knights of Columbus does for the Catholic Church and for many other humanitarian causes,’ he said. ‘To try to say that is in some way partisan is … an injustice.’ ”

National Public Radio interviewed some lay Catholics in the Washington, DC region and found a number of them opposed to the Fortnight for Freedom:

“Marion McCartney, who attends the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., opposes the bishops’ campaign. She’s part of a group, Blessed Sacrament Families United in Faith and Action, that wrote a letter to its pastor, saying the partisan nature of the campaign is ‘a step too far.’

” ‘Nobody’s religious freedom is at stake. That’s just ridiculous!’ McCartney says. Is ‘[Health and Human Services Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius going to come and close all the church doors? I mean, it’s just foolishness.’

A”nother member of that group is Jim Zogby, who has worked on human-rights issues overseas. He says the U.S. bishops were spoiling for a fight over social issues with the Obama administration.

” ‘They declared war on the administration, and we the faithful are paying the price for it,’ Zogby says. ‘Our religious freedom, our ability to simply go to church, worship, feel a community, feel safe in that community’ has been compromised

” ‘We’re now being put in the middle of a partisan fight, and that’s wrong.’

“His wife, Eileen, says Blessed Sacrament, with its mix of liberals and conservatives, has always put politics aside. Not now. At a recent parish meeting about religious freedom, people began attacking President Obama, she says, getting more and more heated.

” ‘Until finally one person leaned forward and he said, “Well, I have seen cars in our parking lot with Obama stickers on them, and they are complicit in all of this.” And I thought, “Well I guess I’m not welcome here, because I have an Obama sticker on my car.” ‘ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations, the coalition of Catholic organizations which has formed to support Catholic nuns in the wake of the Vatican’s challenge to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, is recommending an alternative donation option to a popular Catholic Church fundraising project.

On June 24th, the Vatican will be sponsoring its annual Peter’s Pence, a worldwide collection of donations from Catholics to support the pope’s private charities.  The coalition is asking Catholics to donate, inste ad, to a community of nuns in their local area, as a sign of support for the nuns, and a sign that Catholics disagree with the Vatican’s critique of women’s religious life in the U.S.

The  website is NOT collecting any funds for this effort, but they are asking Catholics who donate to a local women’s religious community to visit the website and let them know how much was donated, as a way for them to track how much money was actually raised by donating to local women’s communities.

The website also has a comment about the lack of transparency concerning Peter’s Pence donations:

“Jason Berry’s recent book Render Unto Rome: the Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church exposes a shocking misuse of charitable donations by people who administer the finances of the Catholic Church. An investigative journalist, Berry’s meticulous documentation reveals that Peter’s Pence donations are frequently used to cover Vatican operating costs even though Catholics are told the money will be used for the Pope’s private charities. There is no public accounting of Peter’s Pence contributions as would be expected of other charitable organizations in the US and around the world.”

The Vatican’s critique of LCWR was in part motivated because of the Sisters’ public support of LGBT ministry and justice generally, and of New Ways Ministry in particular. has already succeeded in collecting over 57,000 signatures, one for each of the nuns in the U.S., on a petition against the Vatican’s challenge to LCWR.  The coalition presented these signatures to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent semi-annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  You can read about the petition delivery in a New York Times article here.

Please be as generous as you can to your local sisters for two important reasons:  1) to thank them for their presence and ministry in our church; 2) to show the Vatican that Catholic support is with the Sisters during this important crisis.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Sister Jeannine Gramick Featured in Nine Short Videos on “The Daily Beast”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish, housed at The is running a series of nine short videos with Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, on a variety of questions concerning LGBT issues, Catholic church and U.S. politics, and the LCWR crisis and American nuns.   The videos are running every day from June 18-24, and then two more on June 30 and July1.  The video for the day is posted at 12 noon, Eastern Time.

So far, two of nine questions for Sister Jeannine have been posted there.  You can view the video by clicking on each of these two questions:

What do you consider to be the most powerful scriptural basis for LGBT equal rights?

Do you think civil marriage should be available for gay and lesbian couples?

The blog offers the following short bio of Sister Jeannine:

“Sister Jeannine Gramick is a Roman Catholic religious sister and a co-founder of the activist organization New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for justice and reconciliation of lesbian and gay people with the institutional Catholic Church. After a review of her public activities on behalf of the Church that concluded in a finding of grave doctrinal error, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared in 1999 that she should no longer be engaged in pastoral work with lesbian and gay persons. In 2000, her congregation, in an attempt to thwart further conflict with the Vatican, commanded her not to speak publicly about homosexuality. She responded by saying, ‘I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right [to speak]. To me this is a matter of conscience.’ “

As always is the case when listening to Sister Jeannine, you should find the video interviews informative, respectful, forthright, and inspiring.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: Fr. Fred Daley on the Blessing of GLBT Gifts and Talents

An article entitled “Syracuse Gay Pride parade celebrates diversity” on quotes Fr. Fred Daley, pastor of All Saints Parish in this upstate New York city.  Fr. Daley, an out gay priest who recently led a focus session on gay priests at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, stated:

Rev. Fred Daley

“There’s so much ignorance around the issue of orientation. As church, it’s our responsibility to proclaim the truth. No one chooses their orientation. It’s set before you’re four years old. We as a parish are so enriched by the presence and involvement of the GLBT community. How blessed we are to celebrate their gifts and talents.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Greetings from London and World Pride!

By the time you read this post, I will have made myself “across the pond,” and be firmly settled in London, England, for a three-and-a half week trip to the United Kingdom for World Pride and to visit with a variety of church reform and LGBT organizations.  Oh, and also to do some sightseeing, too!

As I mentioned here previously, I will be participating on a panel at a multi-national, ecumenical conference as part of World Pride, a two-week gathering of LGBT people from around the globe, as well as conducting New Ways Ministry’s popular “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBT Ministry” program. I will also be networking with British and international organizations who are working for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society. I can’t wait to let them know about the great work that Catholics are doing for LGBT issues and the Catholic church in “the colonies.”

Throughout my stay, I intend to keep on blogging, so I do not expect to pass any day without posting something here.  Because my schedule will not be as regular as usual, some days the posts may appear later than usual. However, because of the time difference (I’m five hours ahead of the U.S. Eastern Time Zone), many times the posts will appear earlier.  Don’t be surprised if there’s an occasional “electronic postcard” as a post–photos from various places that I travel to that I think may be of interest to people who are concerned with Catholic LGBT issues.

I’m open to any suggestions of places to visit that blog readers may have for me while I’m here.  My “home base” will be in London, but I have a BritRail pass and plan to visit a wide-range of places throughout England.  If any readers will be here in London for World Pride, please be in touch so we can say “hello.”

So, the blog will go on while I’m traveling!  It just may be a little different than the regular news and opinion that you may have become used to.  I hope you will enjoy the change. Cheerio!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Father’s Love for His Gay Son and for the Catholic Church

Two days ago, we praised the fact that Catholic parishes in Maine would NOT be participating in an effort among some of the state’s churches to raise funds to defeat marriage equality in an upcoming referendum.

Portland, Maine’s Press Herald newspaper carried an op-ed piece by David Flynn of Lyman, Maine, the Catholic father of a gay son, who also had praise for Catholic refusal to participate in this campaign.  The essay is moving in the way that only a parent’s love can effect, and it was appropriate that it was printed on Father’s Day, the day that other churches began their fundraising effort.  I suggest you read the entire essay to get the personal background of Flynn’s story.  I found this excerpt to be most salient:

“On Father’s Day, many Maine churches will be participating in a special “second collection.” This second collection won’t be used to fund a mission trip to Africa or to help feed Portland’s homeless. Rather, these churches will use this money to fight civil same-sex marriage rights for my son.

“While this is an unfortunate, anti-family move on the part of certain religious denominations, I am proud to say Maine’s Catholic leadership has opted to avoid the divisiveness of this issue.

“The fact that these other churches would participate in such activity is disappointing. More than wanting my son to be able to marry the person he loves, I want my son, and every father’s son in Maine, to be proud of their faith traditions.

“My father raised me in the Catholic faith that taught lessons about justice and the common good. He taught me that as a Catholic, I can be part of a powerful, positive force in the world. He taught me that God’s greatest gift is love. And I passed these values on to my children.

“By avoiding the divisive politics of this election year, Maine’s Catholic Church has seemingly learned from past mistakes. In 2009, more than 140 churches across Maine took a second collection to oppose marriage equality for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“When this happened, many people stood up and walked out of church. Sadly, many have never come back. In fact, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, one in three Catholics born into the faith have stopped calling themselves Catholic.

“They leave because Catholics want their faith known for its ability to inspire a culture, not for the political activities of its leaders.

“I believe that engaging in the politics of fighting secular laws regarding civil same-sex marriage is wrong for any church. And a review of public opinion polls illustrates that the strong majority of Catholics agree with me.

“According to a public opinion survey conducted in March by the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly 60 percent of adult American Catholics support civil marriage for same-sex couples. This is a higher rate of support than among the general public or members of other Christian denominations.

“It would seem the Catholic Church in Maine is listening to the voices of the faithful in choosing not to promote discrimination. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine has signaled that it will not actively campaign against this November’s ballot question allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples. The diocese’s decision to “take a pass” on the second collection is a good indication that it will keep that promise.

“Because Father’s Day is about love, respect and commitment, I’m one Maine father who’s proud of my son and my church.”

I can’t imagine anyone saying it better.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.